“Put A Park On It!” Says Copenhagen To Ugly Parking Garages

Most garages are terrible but necessary (for now) sores on the urban landscape. But why do they have to only do one thing?

Most parking garages are not places where people want to hang out any longer than it takes to park a car. They’re also not the greatest use of public space, since many tend to be empty for several hours a day. So when the city of Copenhagen decided to build a garage near a new development by the waterfront, they did things a little differently: The roof of the building doubles as a neighborhood park.


Inside, the garage uses a standard prefab concrete design. But the architects partially hid the desolate structure–a plant “shelving system” covers the walls, adding green space around the entire building, and the concrete is colored red to match nearby brick buildings. A large staircase wraps up one side of the garage, drawing people up to a playground at the top with swings, climbing sculptures, and a place to take in a view of the city.

“As space within city limits is becoming more scarce and valuable, architects and designers need to come up with solutions which are spatially efficient,” says Kathrin Gimmel, partner at Jaja Architects, the Copenhagen firm that designed the garage. “There are loads of examples on compact underground parking solutions and in towers as well as hybrid solutions, which combines, for example, housing with parking garages. We think that combining parking garages with public spaces could offer a new experience for all–and not only the select few.”

But do we really need more parking garages at a time when fewer people are driving? A study in the U.S. earlier this year found that the more parking that cities added to downtown areas, the more people were likely to drive, and the more likely it was that jobs, residents, and retail stores would disappear.

Still, Gimmel argues that parking just needs to be handled in the right way, and that even in bike-friendly Copenhagen, people still occasionally have a need for cars. “The city is making a great effort in encouraging people to use public transport and the bike as the first mode of commuting,” she says. “But for the people living in the suburbs and working in the city there will always be a need for car parking. So the challenge is to find solutions where the two can co-exist.”

That starts with garages that do more than just house cars, Gimmel says. “We need to rethink these mono-functional facilities to become more than mere parking garages.”

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.